Northern Ireland: ‘Ministers have let us down’ - child abuse victims tell Assembly

Victims of child abuse have told a Northern Ireland Assembly committee today that The Executive Office has failed to prepare for the establishment of a compensation scheme following the conclusion of the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

The representatives of a range of child abuse survivor groups told the Committee for The Executive Office that despite a November 2015 announcement by Sir Anthony Hart, chair of the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry, that he will recommend a financial compensation scheme for victims when he reports in January 2017, Ministers have made no preparations to set up such a scheme and some have repeatedly refused to meet with victims.

Victims from four different survivor groups have come together with experts from Amnesty International, Ulster University and other organisations to establish a Panel of Experts on Redress which has now produced two reports setting out proposals for a compensation scheme. But despite repeated requests over a period of nine months, the groups say that neither the First Minister nor successive DUP Junior Ministers have agreed to meet with victims to discuss the way ahead. Victims say that Sinn Féin Junior Ministers have met the group in their capacity as MLAs on several occasions and that the deputy First Minister has agreed to meet them in the near future.

Victims’ campaigners want The Executive Office to consult with abuse survivors about the establishment of a compensation scheme. They want Ministers to set up a negotiation process to agree the details of the scheme and the financial contribution to be made by religious orders and other organisations which ran many of the children’s homes where abuse took place.

Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA) said:

“It is the responsibility of The  Executive Office to set up a redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse. But as far as we can tell, they have done next to nothing to prepare for the establishment of such a fund despite the end of the public inquiry and the imminent delivery of Sir Anthony Hart’s report.

“We have been extremely disappointed that Ministers have repeatedly failed to respond to our requests for meetings. It has been left to victims themselves to do the work of government by consulting with abuse survivors across Northern Ireland, studying similar schemes in other jurisdictions and making detailed recommendations to Ministers. In return, there has only been official silence. We feel let down by the First Minister and her Junior Ministers.”

Jon McCourt of Survivors North West, said:

“The commitment of Chairman of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry to the establishment of a financial compensation scheme for victims has been a welcome move, and has naturally built expectations among abuse survivors. Rather than continually excuse lack of forward movement by ‘not being seen to predetermine or prejudice the outcome of the Inquiry’, we had hoped that The Executive Office would have followed Sir Anthony Hart’s lead and progressed discussions with the relevant institutions, aimed at scoping potential resources and services to meet the needs of victims and survivors in preparation for the forthcoming report.

“Victims and survivors are a very vulnerable group – some of them are very elderly and have health problems. It should be realised that additional stress, an undetermined outcome and the apparent lack of movement by The Executive Office,  just add to their concern and vulnerability.

“It is up to The Executive Office to take steps to set up the Redress Scheme and to consult and communicate their plans fully with Victims and Survivors Groups. So far they are failing on both counts.” 

Margaret McGuckin and Jon McCourt were among representatives of the Panel of Experts on Redress, an independent initiative made up of survivor groups, individual survivors, academics, lawyers, human rights organisations, practitioners and national and international experts, who will give evidence today from 2pm to the Committee for The Executive Office. They were joined by Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan and Professor Patricia Lundy of Ulster University.

The Panel has produced two reports setting out a model compensation scheme for abuse victims, based on wide consultation with survivors and analysis of redress schemes in other jurisdictions.

The Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry, chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, is scheduled to report to the Executive in January, 2017.  The Inquiry on November 4, 2015, after 157 days of public hearings and 392 witnesses, stated: “… what we can now say is that from the evidence we have heard so far we will recommend that there should be a scheme to award financial compensation to those children who suffered abuse in children’s homes and other institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.”

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